Topic overview

Customer complaints

Women in red blazer looking into her laptop in distress

No business wants to receive customer complaints, but a complaint is an opportunity for your business to improve your service, product or offering - increasing the likelihood meeting or exceeding customer expectations next time around.

Email, social media and mobile phones have transformed the ways in which you interact with customers. They have also provided new ways for people to complain publicly about your business.

Disgruntled customers can now vent their feelings across social media - making it more important than ever to deal with complaints swiftly. For example, a bad online review can deter other potential customers from using your product or service.

As a small business, it's up to you to initiate good customer service and to handle any complaints that come along. You can't rely on your customers to tell you what they think. Not everyone takes the trouble to complain, so many dissatisfied customers simply go elsewhere.

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Complaints strategy

Getting your strategy for handling complaints right involves thinking about how you interact with customers at every contact point. You need to understand your customers, respond to their needs and any effectively handle complaint they may have.

The secret is to tailor your approach to the individual. One useful theory you can use is that your customer will have one of four temperament styles - aggressive, passive, analytical and expressive. Each of these personality types will approach the complaints process in their own way. Look out for them and respond accordingly.

As each of these customers behaves in different ways, you should provide customers with multiple ways of registering a complaint - for example, via your social media channels, via a customer service helpline or using a form on your website.

How to handle customer complaints

Complaints handling is one of the main issues by which customers judge a business. More than 50% of people say they complain, and those complaints are often to organisations they actually like. A well-handled complaint improves their perception of your business. Remember, the crime is not making the mistake, it's making it twice.

Handling complaints doesn't need to be complicated:

  • Put in place a complaints procedure and make it easy for customers to complain.
  • Take every complaint seriously and make them a priority.
  • Acknowledge every complaint. Thank customers for taking the time to give you feedback and say sorry - it is always appreciated by customers.
  • Gather all the facts.
  • Put things right to reduce the chance of future complaints.
  • Train staff and give them the power to rectify the problem in the customer's eyes.
  • Learn from every complaint. You might need to train staff, provide better information to customers or improve some aspect of your product or service.
  • Minimise the chances of future complaints by aiming for continuous improvement.

Most importantly of all, remember to listen. If you are a big talker, you may have to curb your natural tendency to interrupt or dominate the conversation. To develop a dialogue with your customer, ask open-ended questions and listen to the answers. It's worth using the same words and phrases your customer has used to show you are listening and to build rapport.

How to improve your customer relationships

Good customer service is not just about responding when your customer complains. You can actively plan a communication strategy that will ensure you build good customer relationships that reward you with more business.

Make regular contact using a communication method most suited to each customer, whether by phone, email, social networks or text. It's worth asking customers how they like to be contacted. Most people will have a particular preference - and may find other communication methods positively annoying.

Keep the lines of communication open so you can respond to your customers' changing requirements. Thank them for their business. Ask them if they were happy with the service they received and what you could do better next time. As you build the relationship, you will strengthen the ties that bind and develop a loyal customer (and fan) base.

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